CLINTON — Dozens of area residents and several city officials turned out for a public information session regarding the proposed building code on Tuesday night at the Ericksen Community Center.

The meeting was led by Clinton Fire Chief Mark Regenwether, who said the informational meeting was being held to answer questions the public has regarding instituting a building code. Regenwether introduced State Building Code Commissioner Stuart Crine, State Fire Marshal Jim Kenkel, Clinton Fire Marshal Mike Brown and City Administrator Gary Boden, who were in attendance to explain issues involved with the building code.

Crine began the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Everything you ever wanted to know about the Iowa State Building Code * But were afraid to ask.” He explained he would talk about the state code and then answer questions about associated requirements and the law.

Following the presentation, State Rep. Polly Bukta, D-Clinton, asked what a non-building structure would be. Crine said a spa, sidewalk, driveway or retaining wall are non-building structures but are addressed by the building code. Ward 1 Councilman Bob Soesbe wanted to know that if the city adopts the state building code and the code is updated, whether that means the city automatically adopts the new code edition. Crine replied that once a city adopts the state building code, every new adoption by the state automatically applies in that jurisdiction.

Clinton resident Highland Nichols said he has served on a committee to get a building code adopted in past years. He said that he is selling his current home and building a new one, and making sure on his own that the home is constructed to high standards and meets the state building code. Nichols said it was sad that he couldn’t simply put the work out for a bid and be assured it would be constructed to acceptable standards. He urged city leaders to adopt a strong building code.

Resident Chuck Horner commented that during 50 years in the construction business locally, he had never seen a state inspector and asked how many there are. Crine said that until it was established last year, the state had no building inspection program. He said once in place, four inspectors will cover the state and inspect state-owned buildings or state-funded projects. He said the lack of a state program and resources are why his department is so dependent on local municipalities to operate their own building departments. Kenkel explained that 13 inspectors perform fire code inspections and enforcement at the state level, but on a limited basis such as inspecting daycare facilities, schools and nursing homes.

At-Large Councilman Ron Mallicoat asked Crine why the Uniform Plumbing Code has not been updated since 2000. Crine said the Department of Health has jurisdiction over the UPC and he hopes the department will adopt a new edition soon.

He said that updating codes is a lengthy process, taking about three years to go from suggested changes to revisions and added that just because there is a newer version of a code does not mean the previous edition is unsafe. Kenkel clarified that if contractors would like to use a newer code, they can request permission to do so from the Department of Health.

John Totten, vice president of Clinton Engineering Co., asked what the time frame related to the code is. Regenwether explained the City Council is in the process of adopting an interim building code that would apply to state-funded projects, which would provide for local inspection of such projects. Crine clarified that once the city adopts the state code, the enforcement jurisdiction goes to the city. Totten replied he felt it important to have a local inspector and noted it would expedite local projects. Brown added a local inspector could help with a transition to institute a building department by next year.

Regenwether posed several questions that had been asked. He asked if the building code would prevent a homeowner from doing their own work, if permits would be needed for repairs and what residents would do in the instance of needing emergency repairs and not being able to wait for a permit. Crine explained the codes do not require any qualifications or licensing to do some work, but some areas have regional licensing. He remarked legislation does require licensing for plumbers through the Department of Health and licensing of electricians through the Department of Public Safety. Crine said it is up to the municipality to set permit issuing standards, but most do not require permits for small jobs. He noted that in an emergency, residents could have the repairs done but advised that the repair could be subject to an inspection. Kenkel said as long as the work meets state requirements, homeowners can perform their own work.

Bill Schweitzer, North Central regional manager for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, addressed the crowd and remarked there have not been significant changes to the UPC, with the exception of addressing new materials and fixtures. He said a 2006 edition of the UPC is out and officials are working on the 2009 edition. He said if the city adopts the 2000 edition, it would be comprehensive and he would be willing to provide free UPC books and do training for the city at no cost.

Resident Bob Smith asked the officials to offer assurances that the code would not affect existing buildings or do-it-yourselfers. Crine reiterated that municipalities can implement their own amendments to the code and decide which projects will need permits. Kenkel added that only administrative portions of the code can be amended, not the technical requirements. He recommended the city only make minor amendments to the code in order to keep codes as similar as possible, as substantial changes can put cities out of conformity with other areas. Crine added the building code would apply to renovations or additions to existing buildings and residents cannot do work on an existing structure that violates the state building code.

Nichols asked if the city would provide information to homeowners wishing to do their own work, such as a sheet detailing how to be compliant with the code. Regenwether said that would be a possibility because city officials want to make the code as friendly as possible and have no surprises for homeowners. Resident Les Shields posed a question regarding a situation in which a person would install a deck and hot tub, tying it in to an older electrical system. Crine remarked that if an inspector finds a dangerous situation, such as overloading circuits, the inspector would have the authority to issue an order to remedy the situation. He noted an inspector cannot go into an existing building without cause, but if a person is issued a permit for work and an inspector finds something wrong, it is their duty to require the person to fix the problem.

Brown added that for some projects it may be common sense that other systems may need to be updated, such as if the electrical system is maxxed out. He noted that if property owners want a job done, they are going to have to make sure it is done safely and properly. Crine agreed saying that the ultimate goal is the safety of residents..

Resident Larry Law asked about the fees involved with inspections and permits. Crine said a state ordinance regulates that cities are allowed only to charge what it costs to “do the job” and cannot use excess funds for other purposes.

Gregg Cornilsen, director of plant services with the Clinton School District, asked if schools are required to have sprinkler systems. Crine said if the school makes changes to the building, a sprinkler system installation would be required or the school could build a fire wall between the new and old buildings. Cornilsen then asked how tradespeople would go about getting licenses. Crine said a licensing board has not been appointed by the governor as of yet and the state is working to get one in place by next year. He said there is a provision in the law that if licensing cannot be complied with, the state would not delay or shut down construction until that requirement could be met.

Boden offered a timeline for the local building code. He said that when adopted, the code would go into effect on July 1, 2008, and remarked the city would not have code enforcement in place possibly until summer or fall. He said the council would be adopting the codes within the next two months and then be tweaking them. Boden noted the city needs to look at hiring staff or possibly contracting services out based on need, cost and volume. He said he anticipates the city would need a staff of two to three people and the city hopes to have a building code enforcement department on board by April or May of next year. He said there is a lot of work to do between now and then and he anticipates it will take a year to make it all happen.

At the end of the meeting, Crine said there were many good questions and told residents to feel free to contact him with any other questions. He said he appreciated the audience’s attentiveness and interest and advised he would be available to the city for support during the implementation process.

Mayor LaMetta Wynn said she felt the discussion went very well and she was glad experts were on hand to offer answers to the public’s questions. She remarked that she thinks implementation of a building code is in the interest of safety for local citizens and that is the job of city officials. Bukta said the meeting was very positive and she is glad the building code is on its way to becoming a reality, an objective of hers since moving to the area.

Brown said copies of the building code are available at City Hall and will be made available at the public library in the future. For more information on the State Building Code, area residents may contact State Building Code Commissioner Stuart Crine by calling (515) 281-8622. Questions regarding a building code may be e-mailed to bcinfo@dps.state.ia.us.